This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
Since congenial groups are so potent to either hinder or advance the interests of a school, the question arises how far a teacher may work in such a group among his pupils and so help to determine its policy; also whether he may not bring together the pupils who will make a group of a desired kind. The testimony is conflicting on both of these points. Doubtless something depends on the age of the pupils, and much on the personality of the teacher. Some teachers should never attempt it, but they may nevertheless be good teachers, like the principal mentioned on page 108.
. . . Neither society as a whole, nor its personification in the teacher can say: Go to; let there be groups. Let us put so many in one group and so many in another. Let us select individuals according to their capacities, and give them work that will be suited to their needs. No, a real social group cannot be reduced to a mere instrument of the teacher, a means or a method for accomplishing certain preconceived purposes. It is necessarily too many-sided for that. ... - Scott, Social Education, p. 16.
After the graded school had been in session a few weeks a boy from a rural school entered the sixth grade. He was backward in his school work the remainder of the year and seemed little interested in matters connected with the school. The following year the new teacher seated him with the most brilliant pupil in the grade, with the result that the two boys became close friends. The new boy began to take more interest in things, first in his studies, then in the games. Before the end of that second year he was enjoying school and doing work which won him the respect of the other boys in that room.
I have found that up through the fourth grade it is important that the teacher be included in the "we" feeling. The children like to have some older person join in with them and be interested in all they do.
But in the fifth grade and beyond it is not so important. The children then begin to assert themselves and want to be left alone. I know a case where a seventh-grade teacher, a young man, sought to gain admission to a group of boys. As soon as he came on the playground there was an air of aloofness; anyone could see that their play was halfhearted. One day after playing with them a few minutes he went into the schoolroom. While he was still within earshot he heard one of them say, "Gosh, I hope he stays there and don't come buttin' in again." The teacher took the hint and did not try to play with the boys after that.
I do not believe that groups can be constructed; they must grow. The group is composed of kindred spirits, and persons who are not possessed with this spirit cannot become members. The children themselves must decide who is to be in their group; a parent or teacher cannot do it. I remember my grandmother wanted me to play with three girls, and the girls' mammas were equally anxious to have me play with them because the other children in the village were Protestant. But I did not like the three girls and they had no love for me; I preferred the society of two Protestant girls in spite of my grandmother's entreaties.
When I was seven years old we had a Sister for a teacher who was a member of our congenial group. At recess she played games with us. We told her all our little tales of woe and she sympathized with us. The order in the room was as nearly perfect as possible. We knew the rules and were very careful not to break them lest we should displease Sister B. The next term our beloved teacher didn't return. The new teacher had been in the room only three hours when we decided that we could not have her in our group. The first thing she did was to change the seating. Now all of "us" had been sitting together, and when we were separated we vowed revenge. Not a lesson would we study; we did everything we could think of to annoy her. It seemed to us that she was trying to make things disagreeable for us.